A stunning and very inaccessible vale in the larger Bhyundar valley of Uttarakhand was made known to the world when in 1931, 3 British mountaineers – Shipton, Holdsworth and Frank Smythe – who had lost their way after a successful ascent of Mt. Kamet, stumbled into it. Smythe was so smitten by it that he went back in 1937 and eventually wrote a bestseller named “Valley of Flowers”. I stumbled upon this book early in life and had always fantasized how would this valley be. Frank Smythe ignited the love for Mountains in me…
Now when it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the larger Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, I got a chance in Oct 2019 to trek it for a day and live Smythe’s ecstasies and regrets. I consider it the most beautiful day of my life (till now) because the eyes feasted on a lot of unimaginable sights that Nature can bestow upon this land.
At 12,000 feet, the Valley is around 8km long and 2 km wide – so literally quite easy to miss and can be inaccessible – opens on 1st June every year and closes by 31st Oct. The peak flower blooms are in July – and we went only in Oct. One cannot camp in the valley. It opens everyday at 7am and last entries are allowed till 2pm. Everyone has to cross out of the jungle check post by 5pm mandatorily.
The journey literally starts from Gobind Ghat which is where the road head ends. From there, one can choose to trek the 13km to Gangharia (5 hours), or take a Horse back (3 hours) or take a Chopper (12 mins). Given the scenery and a beautiful river crossing, we chose Horses.
As you leave Ghangharia, you would reach the Jungle Check Post where you register for the trek and move on. I found this map very useful.
For the next 1.5 km from the check-post, its a mild trek across a bit of moraines and a river bed, till one gets to this bridge –
I call it the Bridge of Difficulties because just beyond that lies a 2 km, almost vertical and steep stair bed that leads you to the entrance of the Valley of Flowers. As you can see from the picture, you cannot make anything out of what lies beyond. With a leap of faith we committed ourselves to the next 1 hour of this grueling 2 km uphill climb. Take a look at the pictures of this section –
As we turned the last corner and emerged onto relatively flat land, what lay ahead of us was paradise. Take a look as we ambled around for another 5km in the Valley of Shipton, Smythe & Holdsworth –
We were in the illustrious company of legendary mountains. Let me show you Mt. Rataban first, which stands at 6125M and the one Smythe couldnt scale despite his numerous attempts –
The base of Rataban was perhaps still 8km away, so we walked up a bit more to get close to the river bed of Pushpawati (this ultimately merges into the Alakananda at Gobind Ghat).
We walked 2 more kms into the Valley, to get a better view of Nilgiri Parvat, or a glimpse of Gauri Parvat. But soon the clouds started thickening and it seemed like that it may pour any minute. Clicked the last set of pictures before we packed up. And, as we turned back, it started to hail!
Here is one last panoramic video shot of the Valley for you to enjoy. I am pretty sure, you will add this to your bucket list destination.
In summing up, we started from Joshimath at 5:45am, reached Gobindghat by 6:15am, horse-backed to Ghangharia by 8:45 am, crossed the jungle check-post by 9:15am, returned to the check-post by 2pm, had our lunch at Ghangharia by 2:30pm, got back on the horseback by 3pm, reached Gobindghat by 5pm, and back into our hotel at Joshimath by 6pm. It was more a marathon military expedition done in the month of October (shorter days, very less flowers) with just about only 5 hours at the Valley. Basis our experience, here is our suggestion –
When to go:
Definitely, July is the best month to go. Do check the weather for rains before you leap. This place doesn’t attract the crowds or grouped trekkers so its always available even at short notice. The park is open till Oct end but weather vagaries means that there can be more surprises beyond July.
How to reach:
Dehradun is the nearest airport that connects to many cities in India. Haridwar is the nearest railhead. Basis your mode of transportation, Joshimath is a 9 hour drive from either of these cities. From Joshimath, it is a 45 min drive (16 km) along the Alakananda to Gobind Ghat. It is another 13 km of trek/horse back/chopper from there till Ghagharia. The forest check-post is 20 mins away from the town.So, basically it is 1 full day’s time to reach Ghangharia from this world, and hence only the Valley is atleast a 3-day trip for anyone.
Where to stay:
This is tricky, and the answer changes basis your mode of transportation (between Gobind Ghat & Ghangharia) and level of comfort.
If you prefer a chopper, then you can stay in better luxury at Joshimath, and even 3 decent hotels on the highway at Gobind Ghat. Gobind Ghat also makes a good choice if you wish to take a day and visit the famous Badrinath (36km or 80 mins away) and the village of Mana. Additionally, the ski town of Auli is 16km away from Joshimath or 32km away from Gobind Ghat.
If you prefer a Horse back (not so easy for 3 hours, especially downhill and also for elderly and children) or trek, then it is best to stay at Ghangharia. There are many home stays, basic lodges and a variety of value-for-money restaurants. Since this also is the route for pilgrims for Hemkund Sahib, the quality and hygiene of stays and restaurants is very good. Ghangharia also makes sense if you wish to take a day out and attempt Hemkund Sahib.